Cindy Bircham

Relish Elgin – Holiday 2016

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When you think of food, do you think about where it came from? Not just the farmer who tended the crop of the field it grew in (although supporting local is a high priority) but what region of the world the dish has roots in?

Long before the invention of the internet or public access television with Jacque or Julia, what we ate was influenced mainly by two things: what was immediately available – in season or on the shelf at the local grocer – and what was traditional for the family – what Oma taught you to cook (from her sauce-stained recipe book) and was eaten in the region your family immigrated from.

When people move they bring their food with them. They bring in in the form of recipes, tool, ingredients, and memories – that one pot the rice must be cooked in, saved seeds from the pepper plant used to make the only red sauce father will eat, the recipe for guava cake that has been handed down through generations, or the funky scent memory of sauerkraut fermenting in Grandma’s shed when you were nine. Cooking and eating s something all humans do and the deep emotional ties to food and drink have been well documented; it’s culture and is what makes us who we are.

In a country shy of 150 years young, it shouldn’t be a surprise to know that almost thirty percent of the population in the St. Thomas-Elgin region are first and second generation immigrants. You may be surprised to know how diverse we really are, however. In our region, immigrants come from 86 different countries of origin (top four being Mexico, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and United States) and speak 58 different languages (top four being German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese). Immigrants make St. Thomas and area this home for economic, family, and humanitarian reasons.

In 2015, the St. Thomas Elgin Local Immigration Partnership (STELIP) along with the Elgin Middlesex Oxford Workforce Planning & Development Board, Rogers TV, and Ontario Trillium Foundation produced six episodes for a television show called “We Are Elgin-St. Thomas”> Another six episodes followed in 2016. The series showcases stories of newcomers to the region, outlines supports provided by local services, and shares cultural recipes and cooking tips. The 30 minute show is hosted by Paul Jenkins with the cooking portion hosted by yours truly.

It’s hard to express in words how cooking with another person can build connections that can only happen in a kitchen. Maybe it is the dance that takes place as you both step around to make room for each other. Perhaps conversations come easily when we simply ask each other what we line to eat.  Or, maybe it’s the emotions and sensations we are both experiencing as the same time without knowing anything about each other. No matter the reasons, the connections I felt with the guests of the show left a lasting impression with me. The language of gastronomy is universal!

What food is available and what is traditional still influence what goes on our table at home and in restaurants today. The opportunity to share cultures with each other will continue to evolve our cuisines of tomorrow and the generations to come. We are a multi-cultural cooking pot of sorts and it is worthy of celebration because when we move, we bring our food with us.